Monthly Archives: November 2007

Confronting Power – Part 2

An Interview with Frank Connolly

In the first part of our interview with Frank Connolly he detailed the response of the Irish news media to what has come to be known as ‘Bertiegate’. The following, second part of the interview discusses more general issues of media reporting and the inherent constraints imposed by the corporate, advertising dependent, structure of mainstream outlets.

MB: We had one particular question we wanted to ask you and that is whether you think there is an inverse relationship between good journalism and journalists who have good relationships with those in big business and in government?

FC: I think that’s another way of putting the famous phrase that journalism is about revealing things that people in power don’t want to have revealed and I think that still is a consistent responsibility of investigative journalism. And where journalism is not questioning the powerful and the rich and those who control society including control of the economic future of society, I think it’s not good journalism. The problem is that there is a wider issue at stake here. One is the convergence of economic interests with media ownership which is very apparent in this country – and that goes into the whole matter of the oil and gas resources that we touched on earlier on. For instance, in the last week (October 2007) Independent Newspapers have published the fact the Providence Resources which is owned, by and large, by Tony O’Reilly and his family, have discovered oil off the southern coast in the Helvic field. In their statement announcing this they have described it as a very important discovery of what they used to call in the Independent ‘black gold’. There is no evidence that there has been a significant find in that field because they haven’t established the pressure at which the oil will flow. Everybody knows there is oil and gas off the Irish coast – particularly off the Atlantic coast. We know it through the Corrib find and through the Dunquin prospect off the south-west coastline. The big issue is how viable and how profitable and how rapid and strong a flow of oil will come from these fields. The technology is now more viable to explore these previously uninviting waters. But here is an example of where a possible attempt has been made, by using control of newspapers, to hype up the share prices of Providence Resources – without having significant proof of the nature of the find. The market price did go up initially after the announcement of ten days or so ago and then settled back down after the markets decided that maybe they didn’t have enough evidence. This happened in the 1980s with Atlantic Resources, also controlled by Tony O’Reilly, where hundreds if not thousands of people lost huge amounts of money by backing a suggestion published in his media organisation that there was a massive find off the southern coast by Atlantic. As it turned out, it never happened. So there is a problem where media ownership converges with very powerful economic interests and in this country it is a particular problem. It’s not exceptional to this country but it is a problem.

Continue reading Confronting Power – Part 2

Confronting Power – Part 1

An Interview with Frank Connolly

“[I]t is the liberals who fear liberty and the intellectuals who want to do dirt on the intellect” [George Orwell, Preface to ‘Animal Farm’, 1945] [1]

‘Freedom of the press’ is one of those few concepts that can bring erstwhile journalistic adversaries together in almost unanimous agreement. The term is generally bandied around for several weeks whenever some authoritarian oligarchy attempts to restrict or oppress the local press. The concept is of course admirable, and few competent commentators would reject the idea that this freedom provides a means to protect democracy. But it is often used to evoke a rose tinted idea of journalism – one where all journalists are forging their democratic paths in a truly campaigning vocation. The Irish Times editorial on World Press Freedom Day last year stated proudly – ‘A well equipped reporter with a satellite phone is virtually impossible for any regime to control’. However, these well-equipped reporters are subject to numerous controls far less obvious than the clumsy military fist. Where economic factors are concerned these ‘campaigning’ journalists have shown reluctance in certain instances to bite the hand that feeds them. And it is left to those journalists who not only understand but are willing to accept the consequences of confronting concentrations of power to fulfil an ideal the rest are only willing to pay lip service to. [2]

Continue reading Confronting Power – Part 1